All Scores

Cathy Engelbert outlines financial approach to WNBA charter flights

(David Becker/NBAE via Getty Images)

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Minnesota Lynx guard Kayla McBride settled into a folding chair after scoring 19 points in her team’s win over the Connecticut Sun on Sunday. It would have been the perfect time for McBride to sit in front of reporters and TV cameras and get her flowers.

But instead, McBride delivered a message: There would be no basketball questions answered. She would discuss player safety, mental health and chartered flights.

“Sorry,” McBride said on the way out. “We will be back to normal interviews on Tuesday, but this was important.”

McBride wasn’t the only player who chose to highlight issues plaguing the WNBA over the weekend. Elizabeth Williams of the Chicago Sky did the same in the lead-up to her team’s clash with the Phoenix Mercury.

Absent from that contest was Brittney Griner, who will miss an unspecified amount of time to focus on her mental health.

The decision once again brought travel issues in the WNBA to the forefront of conversation. Griner’s safety when traveling has been a concern since she returned to the United States in December after being wrongfully detained in a Russian prison for 10 months. The Mercury star has already endured one incident at an airport this season, increasing players’ calls for chartered flights. Under the current CBA, teams are obligated to fly commercial for competitive advantage reasons, with the exception of the playoffs, back-to-back games and the Commissioner’s Cup championship.

The WNBA is in a period of growth, with this season breaking viewership and attendance records throughout the league. Coinciding with that growth are conversations about expansion, as the league hopes to add multiple teams in the next few years.

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert says the league has done data analysis on “over 100 cities,” taking into account demographics, potential corporate partners and whether or not there is already an established women’s basketball fanbase. Places with strong markets for women’s NCAA programs are of particular interest, she says.

“It’s kind of a multi-dimensional look,” Engelbert said. “I’d say a lot of different things, but fandom and corporate partners and people need to show up and get in seats. We need to find those markets.”

Players don’t necessarily want expansion, at least not until other issues are solved. And the top concern for players right now is the ability to fly charter.

“I believe that until we have all of our priorities in check as a league, as the 12 teams that we have now, it’s hard to expand and to give resources somewhere else,” McBride said. “I think charters is number one.”

img
Kayla McBride is a three-time WNBA All-Star and 10-year veteran of the league. (Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Engelbert believes the league can improve in multiple ways simultaneously.

“I think we can balance all of it,” she said on Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena.”I think we have been chipping away at some things that I know are important to the players. But we’re still going to be fiscally responsible as well and make sure that we feel confident that the growth of the league will match the benefits we can get.”

Part of the reason Engelbert is so adamant about expansion is because she believes it could increase media rights deals for the league. Bigger deals mean more money to use on player benefits like chartered flights.

“If you bring in more expansion teams, your media rights will be more valuable because now you’re bringing in more cities to draw that fandom in,” she said. “That’s what media companies are looking for is broad reach.”

Engelbert cited the NBA as an example. When the league was in its 27th year (where the WNBA is now), players flew commercial, but that changed as the league signed more lucrative media rights deals.

“The only reason the men have (chartered flights) is because of media rights deals,” Engelbert said. “That is it.”

Engelbert added that she wants to get chartered flights for the players, but she wants them in perpetuity. And the league, she says, is getting to a place financially where that will be feasible.

“When I came into the league, I would have done it,” she said. “But I would have bankrupted the league in a year or two.

“It will cost $25-to-30 million for a full 40-game season for 12 teams, and more if we add teams. So you chip away at it until you can afford it, and how do you afford it? Media rights.”

The WNBA currently has deals with ION and ESPN running through 2025. They’ve also partnered with CBS/Paramount+, CBS Sports Network, Amazon Prime, NBA TV and Twitter to broadcast games.

In addition to travel, Engelbert addressed a couple of other issues facing the league on Sunday.

Roster expansion

Each team in the WNBA technically has 12 roster spots, making room for 144 total players. In order to get more players in the league, roster expansion — rather than team expansion — is one possibility. But it’s not one that Engelbert agrees with.

While it seems like an easy solution, the commissioner says the situation would be more complex than it appears. She worries about playing time and player development.

“It doesn’t drive anything for the league,” she said of roster expansion. “So I’d rather do a development plan for players, rather than just adding them to a roster and not getting much playing time or experience.”

Unrivaled

Former UConn stars Breanna Stewart and Napheesa Collier recently announced the creation of Unrivaled, a 3×3 league that will take place during the WNBA’s offseason. It joins Athletes Unlimited as alternative options for players who have routinely gone overseas in the offseason to play and earn more money.

It also gives players an option that doesn’t interfere with the league’s prioritization rule, which penalizes players for missing the start of the WNBA season and makes offseason commitments difficult to navigate.

Engelbert says the WNBA supports both Unrivaled and AU.

“I think it’s a great idea. Anything that promotes the game of women’s basketball,” she said. “I would like us to become the center for all women’s basketball, whether it’s in our season or outside of our season.”

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Crypto.com Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a Change.org petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

Start your morning off right with Just Women’s Sports’ free, 5x-a-week newsletter.